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The Detachment Wall: How to Let Go of Your Adult Children

By Christine Field October 05, 2022 Family

Some of us moms have a problem with our attachment to our children, to the point where the bond can become unhealthy.

Can we love our children but not let their choices or behavior make us crazy? Is some detachment actually a good idea?

Is Detachment a Wall?

The idea of detaching from a person can seem terrifying. But is there a way to practice healthy detachment?

Another way of thinking about it is this – when we live detached, we are not placing a wall between us and others. Instead, we are examining our own expectations and dependencies.

With those in perspective, we are freer to love another person because the focus is shifted to them and is not solely on us.

With our adult children, though we love them unconditionally, we try to satisfy unmet needs in us:

  • Our need to be needed.
  • Our desire to nurture someone.
  • Our desire to see that our work and love produces an effect – a child who loves us back.

What we often do is keep a picture in our minds of our child and how they will fulfill these needs and desires for us. What happens when that child rejects us? In my case, and for many other moms, we completely freak out!

What Went Wrong

When we are ‘good mothers,’ we begin to define ourselves by our mothering. While this can be positive and can encourage us to fulfill our role responsibly, by totally adopting that definition we can forget all the other aspects of ‘me.’

When we are our role, when that role is challenging, or when that role is over, what is left of ‘us’?

In dealing with estranged children, we still tend to look within ourselves. We ask ourselves what we did wrong. We obsess over every interaction and question whether we could have responded differently.

Read HOW TO DIVORCE YOUR ADULT CHILDREN AND RESTORE YOUR SANITY.

This Monday-morning quarterbacking neglects some basic facts about humans:

You Can’t Control Other People

We surely have influence over our children, but we do not mold them like clay. When they don’t turn out the way we planned, we neglect this fundamental truth.

You Can’t Rely on Your Children for Your Happiness

We may have looked ahead to our golden years and seen ourselves surrounded by loving grandchildren. This neglects another fundamental truth: People change. If we rely on other people for our happiness, we may be disappointed.

My source of joy and happiness is an inside job, not dependent on the actions of others.

Your Emptiness Is Yours to Fill Up

Your adult children don’t exist solely to fill the void of your unmet needs. Do you need the love and admiration of children and grandchildren to be happy? Perhaps meeting your own needs by loving yourself sufficiently will bring more peace and satisfaction.

Complete People Can Love Completely

I remember well the first time my young daughter gushed about a new boyfriend, saying, “He completes me!” We had many long talks deep into the night discussing how love can be real and true only when two people who are complete within themselves come together.

True love rejects the notion that the other exists solely to please you. True love is therefore not threatened when the other displeases you, because the love is not dependent on the other fulfilling your needs.

Having the other person conform to our desires so we will love them is manipulation, not love. Focusing on “what’s in it for me” is a death knell for true love.

Yet, as mothers, we sometimes forget that in our relating to our adult children. When we can view them with some detachment, when our reactions to them are no longer based on expectations or being dependent on them, we are then able to love them fully and freely.

Do not look at your adult child as completing you, giving you a fulfilled life, or meeting your needs. When you set those aside, you begin to understand love.

What to Do Now?

If you are a hurting mama, laid low in the dust by the estrangement of an adult child, what should you do now?

  • Examine your feelings and thoughts. What does it feel like when attachment hurts? What thoughts are you thinking at the time? Can you begin to think differently?
  • Be with others and love them, but don’t look to them as your source of happiness.
  • Learn to be alone, not lonely. Loving ourselves enough that we can be our best companions is healthy.
  • Quit blaming yourself for the state of the relationship. You didn’t and couldn’t control the outcome. Why beat yourself up?

Here are a few more ideas to help you heal and let go.

  • Journal – Writing or sketching your feelings and thoughts puts you in the moment and helps to get you out of your thoughts. Buy yourself a pretty journal and write in it whenever you feel overwhelmed, sad, or lonely.
  • Find other mothers in the same boat – Join Facebook groups and share your stories with other women who are going through the same thing. Lift each other up and remember not to fall into the trap of wallowing and continuous negativity. 
  • Seek counseling or therapy – Look into talk therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy. 
  • Read empowering books such as:

Self-Love Workbook for Women: Release Self-Doubt, Build Self-Compassion, and Embrace Who You Are by Megan Logan on Amazon.

When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chödron on Amazon

Keep Moving by Maggie Smith on Amazon

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz on Amazon

Mind Over Mood by Dennis Greenberger and Christine A. Padesky on Amazon.

When we are not attached to any outcome in our relationships, then we can be free and happy. When the state of our internal life is more important than our external circumstances – there lies peace.

Read PARENTING ADULT CHILDREN CAN BE AGONY.

Also, MY ADULT CHILDREN CUT ME OUT OF THEIR LIFE.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Do you still find it hard to let go of your adult children? Or, do you still worry about them and take care of them more than you think you should? Please join the conversation below.

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Misty

Hello! about 4 years ago my daughter (then 21) began dating her now-husband. Almost immediately, I became the enemy and she quit wanting to do things with me and quit coming to see me from college. Within 6 weeks of her wedding last year, she refused to speak or test saying she was having “mental health” issues. I was worried sick and drove 3 hours to see if she was ok. After my visit which I felt was gong well, she wrote me a 3 page letter telling me basically to F*** off and she was mad at me for trying too hard. To make it worse, she has nothing to do with her younger brother, my husband, or her grandmother. I am beginning to think it is her husband but it is so very very strange. She is a little better about answering texts but almost refuses to see any of us. Any advice?

Sophie Kenny

Thank you for this article. I am
Overly involved with my 28 year old daughter and her health and life choices. Probably because I was raised by a neurotic grandmother that was always worried a lot about health. I am anxious and worried all the time as she has now moved 20 hours away. Mind you some of my worries are grounded I’m her constant poor health, premature baby, constantly hurt child, in a wheelchair for a while, 3 years of chronic migraines.
She does however push me away and not tell me stuff. She doesn’t want to hear my advice or discuss with me.
But now she is 28, she has her own family and child and life. So my identity as a good mom taking care of her has to change as I am retired and single and need to be happy with the rest of my life instead of anxious the whole time and imagining what might be going on far away from me at all times. What I cannot control.

Bella

I am interested in learning more

Beverley

Since my husband passed away four years ago ,I know I want my adult son in his fifties to ring and say hi 👋 mom how are you , not going to happen , I can visit when ever I like ,but must be careful not to say that I am lonely ,they know that ,that I live alone they know that it makes them feel uncomfortable,yet I am lonely and just want that hug we love you mum .is that too much how can I let go of being needy ,if you know please tell me .I have a good son and his partner a,lways make me welcome I just feel uncomfortable myself as I can’t talk to them without it being all about me .I could go on ,I am hurting and lost ,that sounds pathetic I know I should grow up ,I am seventy seven any advise I would be grateful for

Rav

My son has always caused problems at school and as he grew up got involved with the wrong people , cut the story short he’s always gets him self in a situation where he owes money, I don’t have the money the whole family has fallen apart , know he’s in France and he owes money, keeps ring me , i don’t know what to do , I’m 60 know and he’s 26 years old , please help I feel I’m always worried about his safety and health , but no one cares for me

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The Author

Christine Field is an author, attorney, speaker, listener and life coach. She has four grown kids, mostly adopted, mostly homeschooled. She provides MomSolved© resources and reassurances to moms facing common and uncommon family life challenges. Christine helps moms rediscover their mojo for wholehearted living after parenting. Visit her website here http://www.realmomlife.com

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